Let’s face it Madridistas - not a single remaining Liga game is an automatic three points. Last Sunday’s frustrating home tie against Celta Vigo was the latest example. Despite the fact that the remaining schedule is still favourable because of Real Madrid’s positional talent superiority, dropping points from here on out is detrimental. If Zidane and the team want to lift the 34th Liga trophy at Plaza Cibeles in May, here are three suggestions that could make it happen:
1. Rotate Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal at right back
From 2004 to 2011, Sergio Ramos was one of the best right-backs in Spain. However, early in the 2012 season, former manager José Mourinho moved him to center-back when former Portuguese international Ricardo Carvalho went down with a significant injury. After that takeover, the team racked up 15 straight wins and he has kept that position ever since.
Returning to the present situation, with Álvaro Odriozola loaned out for the rest of the season, Dani Carvajal is the only true right back with Nacho Fernandez as the most likely replacement. However, Nacho was raised in the farm system as a center-back and has struggled at right back during key situations. From this point forward, Zidane should move Sergio to right back in La Liga and Dani Carvajal takes that responsibility in Champions League.
2. Pack the midfield with ideas.
Zidane elected to go with a 4-3-3 formation, which featured Eden Hazard for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend. However, Celta Vigo’s 5-3-2 defensive posture stymied Real Madrid’s attacks. With the lack of midfield creation, crosses came in from Marcelo and Dani Carvajal with no success. Future La Liga opponents, especially those flirting with relegation such as Mallorca (April 12) and Espanyol (April 22), will most likely implement a similar formation.
For Liga games with no prior midweek Champions League fixture, Zidane should call up the most creative minds to lead the midfield, such as Isco and Luka Modric. There is simply no need to have both workhorses Casemiro and Federico Valverde simultaneously as opponents will defend more and only counter attack if the opportunity presents itself. The team should not run away from what it did best early in the season, which was create goal chances through interior midfield mastery.
3. Double sub before the second half begins.
Last Sunday Real Madrid was down 0-1 at halftime. Even though the team scored two goals to retake the lead by the 65th minute, the win was not secured. Zidane’s first change of swapping Vinicius Jr for Eden Hazard was merely for fresh legs at an extreme flank. The other two subs (Luka Modric for Toni Kroos and Ferland Mendy for Gareth Bale) were three minutes apart, which opened the door for Celta to exploit the tactical switches. Hence, Santi Mina’s back-breaking goal stole one point in the 85th minute. In order to reverse negative score lines, Zidane needs to implement the double sub at halftime. The clock moves faster in the second half as rivals hunker down if a tie or win is obtainable.
Real Madrid still controls its La Liga destiny. Nevertheless, the tie against Celta Vigo should be the last warning. There is no more extra credit. Barcelona is chasing from behind with a Clásico showdown on March 1. A tie or Real Madrid win on that day is king. However, that is only one game out of 14 remaining. As long as past errors are not committed flagrantly again, Real Madrid will be in the driver’s seat after each passing weekend.
- Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)